The Birmingham Iron entered Sunday afternoon’s game knowing that the Orlando Apollos had already won on Saturday, so the Iron would have to win to keep pace in the Eastern Conference. The Commanders wanted to join the San Diego Fleet at 2-2 (after the Fleet lost to the Memphis Express Saturday night) instead of joining the Salt Lake Stallions at 1-3 in the Western Conference.
The game from Birmingham, in front of a league low 6,539 fans, wasn’t terribly exciting, but the Commanders managed to knock the Iron from the ranks of the unbeaten, leaving the Apollos the lone undefeated team in the league. In a messy game, the Commanders stopped a late drive from the Iron and won 12-11 to join the Fleet at 2-2. The Iron fell to 3-1.
Field Goals Won’t Get Fans in the Seats
Birmingham started out with the ball and actually moved the ball to the San Antonio side of the field before stalling out and punting. That punt was downed on the 1-yard line, though it didn’t stop the Commanders from having a drive of their own, driving down as far as the Birmingham 10-yard line. However, a sack on third down forced a Nick Rose field goal, which he converted to give the Commanders a 3-0 lead.
The teams exchanged punts over the next four drives before the Iron managed to come through with a field goal of their own, with Nick Novak converting from 33 yards to pull the teams even at halftime. On that field goal drive, the Iron benefitted from a Ladarius Perkins fumble going out of bounds, allowing them to maintain possession from deep within the Commanders’ territory.
Second Half Starts Slow
The Commanders started with the ball in the second half and didn’t do much, punting after four plays. The subsequent Birmingham drive lasted just as long, and then the Commanders followed that with a three-and-out. Then the excitement (at least as far as this game was concerned) started, with quarterback Luis Perez throwing an interception for the Iron on their next drive.
San Antonio started the drive deep in their territory, but quickly moved to the Iron side of the field thanks to a facemask penalty after a long run by Kenneth Farrow II. After a Logan Woodside pass to Cameron Clear moved the Commanders inside the 20, the Iron defense broke, allowing Trey Williams to score from 12 yards out for his first touchdown of the season. After a failed conversion, the Commanders led 9-3 with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Welcome to the Punt Show
If you happen to be a fan of punting, then this was the game for you. The next four drives ended with a punt. Perhaps bored themselves by all the punting, the Iron found another way to lose the ball, this time on a fumble on an aborted snap that was initially recovered only to be fumbled again. Taking possession on the Birmingham 23, the Commanders didn’t have far to go to make the Iron regret the turnover, though the drive stalled and ended with another Nick Rose field goal. A 12-3 lead with about 4 minutes to go seemed secure enough in such an ugly game.
It was then that the Iron offense found it’s groove, quickly moving to the other 25 yard line after two long completions. Penalties then took over, with defensive pass interference, defensive holding (x2), and illegal use of the hands responsible for four Birmingham first downs and helping to move the ball down to the 1-yard line. Trent Richardson found that distance easy enough to cover and ran in for his 7th rushing touchdown on the season, with a two-point conversion bringing the Iron back within one at 12-11. The Iron attempted an onside conversion… that was intercepted, allowing the Commanders to kneel to run out the clock and walk away with the victory.
Farrow surprisingly rushed for 142 yards for the game, accounting for over 55% of the Commanders’ 256 yards of total offense. The star for the Iron was probably quarterback Luis Perez, who threw for an empty 202 yards (on 19 of 29), but with two costly interceptions. He also remains without a touchdown pass on the season.
As mentioned previously, the Iron (3-1) get to host the Orlando Apollos (4-0) next Saturday, their fourth of five home games this season. They have to be hoping to be closer to the 17,000 spectators of the first two than the 6,500 that showed up for this one, and the battle for first place seems like it could be enough.
The Commanders (2-2) will also be playing for first place against the Arizona Hotshots (2-2) from Tempe on Sunday night. Small sample size I know, but the Commanders are 1-1 on the road and averaging 11.5 points in those two games, while the Hotshots are also 1-1 at home but averaging 24.5 points. Knowing our luck, it will be another ugly game with a lot of punts and little scoring, but we can hope for more.
Until next time…